For the first time in two decades, the University of Notre Dame’s McCloskey New Venture Competition will have a new venue to culminate the eight-month journey of more than 900 individuals who have participated in the annual competition as entrepreneurs, judges and mentors. The semifinal and final round presentation will take place online this Thursday and Friday, with the winners announced in a live-streamed awards ceremony Friday afternoon.
And what a journey it has been. This year’s McCloskey New Venture Competition attracted 184 teams—up from 175 in 2019 and 70 in 2000, the inaugural year—composed of Notre Dame students, alumni, faculty, and community members that applied in late September 2019 for the privilege to compete for more than $400,000 prizes. Joining them on their quest were more than 360 mentors and judges from across the country, many of which are highly successful entrepreneurs, businesspeople and innovators themselves.
The IDEA Center at the University of Notre Dame, the University’s fundamental resource for all commercialization and entrepreneurial activities including the McCloskey New Venture Competition, deftly transitioned the semifinals and finals from a live to virtual event at the last minute due to the nation’s social distancing requirements that went into effect in mid March.
While many other annual venture competitions were canceled or postponed, Notre Dame, McCloskey sponsors, and advisors quickly decided that the competition would go on—if it moved to an online virtual format. With little more than a few weeks to make the switch, the IDEA Center team pivoted and is set to pull it off with true Fighting Irish spirit.
“I can’t tell you how excited we are,” says Patti Reinhardt, director of student engagement at the IDEA Center. “Our teams, sponsors, judges, mentors, and volunteers were all in. We worked overtime to create a new online format that preserves, and in some ways, amplifies the months of effort these teams and their mentors have invested in their business plans and pitches. Thanks to technology, the presentations, judging, and awards celebration will go on as planned.”
A total of 30 teams with 79 Notre Dame student participants are competing in the semifinal round, including four undergraduate teams, ten graduate teams, 13 alumni teams and three community teams. The semifinal round will be held this Thursday with judges reviewing the teams’ recorded presentations and recording the scores using a mobile judging platform called RocketJudge. Based on these scores, six teams will advance to Friday’s final round.
All of the time, effort and energy invested in the 2020 McCloskey New Venture Competition will reach its climax Friday at 1:30 pm when the six finalists make their pitches live via Zoom to a panel of six judges and a moderator. The presentations, including the questions and answer portion, will be recorded and posted to the IDEA Center’s website. At approximately 4 p.m., the celebration begins with the announcement of the winners via live stream to the world.
This year’s competition features 310 judges—up from 232 last year and 31 in the inaugural year—who gave generously of their time to evaluate business plans and presentations. What makes this year’s final round judging panel unique is four of the six are previous McCloskey New Venture Fund Competition winners: Ashley Kalinauskas, CEO and co-founder, Torigen Pharmaceuticals; Will McLeod, co-founder and chief of product, Keen Home Inc.; Rob McColgan; founder and co-CEO, Modern Restaurant Concepts; and Evan Wray, CEO and co-founder, Mavely. Heidi Beidinger, PhD, MPH, director, Master of Science in the Global Health Program, Notre Dame and Doisha Stewart, vice president, Global Corporate Communications and founding member, Allegion, complete the judging panel for the finals.
“Friday is truly the pinnacle of the McCloskey New Venture Plan Competition. By live streaming, virtually anyone—family and friends of the participants, Notre Dame alumni, sponsors, potential investors and others with a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship—can join the celebration and experience first-hand the excitement the Notre Dame and South Bend-Elkhart communities are generating together,” Reinhardt says.
Much credit and gratitude is given to the sponsors whose generosity and commitment to the Competition has never wavered. The Competition is named for Tom and Bonnie McCloskey, whose endowment makes possible the $50,000 McCloskey Grand Prize. Community partners. Startup South Bend-Elkhart and Elevate Ventures sponsor the $50,000 community Grand Prize, while Marshall County Economic Development Corporation sponsors the $25,000 prize for Greatest Social Impact, recognizing social entrepreneurs who emphasize social impact as well as the bottom line. The Tim Sutherland Family supports the best presentation during the final event.
Other awards for the 2020 McCloskey Competition are provided by IrishAngels, Palo Alto Software, Elevate Ventures, College of Science, Pat Flynn, Workman Nydegger, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, First State Bank, RSM US, LLP, Plug & Play Tech Center, Lavrock Ventures and Equicorp Partners, LLC. The Leighton Foundation and the Michael Vogel Family also continue their support.
While there remains a huge amount of work to be done before Friday, Reinhardt says the 20th anniversary of the McCloskey New Venture Plan is a milestone all can be proud of achieving. “Over the last two decades, 2,286 teams with 7,000 participants were awarded more than $1.65 million in prizes with the help of 2,900 judges and mentors. Some of the past winners are now successful companies; all walked away with an incredible experience. As for Friday, we’re ready!” she says.
About the IDEA Center
Standing for Innovation, De-Risking and Enterprise Acceleration, the IDEA Center is the fundamental resource for all commercialization and entrepreneurial activities at the University of Notre Dame. It provides the necessary space, services and expertise for idea development, commercialization, business formation, prototyping, entrepreneurial education and student entrepreneurial efforts. It is designed to bring the best Notre Dame faculty, staff and student ideas and innovations to market. To learn more about the center, visit www.ideacenter.nd.edu.